Sunday, September 30, 2012

Buddhism in Brazil: You're Doing it Wrong

photo credit
So Alexandre has been interested in learning more about Buddhism and meditation as a way to bring some grounding and calming techniques to his stressful life. He found a Buddhist center here in Springfieldee that has weekly meditation times. He asked if I'd like to go with him, and while the idea of meditation is kind of the opposite of my personality, I said I would try because the center said they had classes for beginners. I don't really know much of anything about Buddhism or meditation, but I was looking forward to learning something new, maybe even meeting some new people or potential friends. Unfortunately, the tone of this post is slightly sarcastic, since things didn't go so well.

One hitch was that the center only offers the beginners' classes once every two months. People are not allowed to come to the center's regular meditation times without having first gone to the beginners' class, and people must email the director guy to sign up for the beginners' class beforehand. It seems like the idea of jumping through hoops and unnecessary bureaucracy is a bit of Brazilian flavor that the center wanted to add to their branch of this East Asian tradition.

The center's website was a little confusing, so Alexandre emailed the director guy to confirm the date and time of the next beginners' class and to say that we wanted to sign up. The guy said it would be Sunday from 10:00am - 12:00pm and his email included a vague scolding that told Alexandre to use the website to confirm this kind of information. (Clearly, the person responding to the emails hadn't seen the website in some time, since it said that an email confirmation was required.)

All right. So this morning, Alexandre and I went to the Buddhist center with open minds and comfortable clothes. The website said that we were required to wear black and that we should not wear "roupa social" (i.e., fancy or dressy clothes). All right, cool, I thought. Ridding ourselves of earthly adornments and all that. Getting dressed required more brain exercise than it usually does, so that was fun. The only problem is that I don't really own much black clothing at all. I ended up going with black stretchy gym pants, a long white sleeveless blouse with flower embroidery, a black cotton zip-up jacket, and grey flip-flops. Alexandre wore a regular black t-shirt and khakis (an earth tone, he argued).

When we got to the address that the GPS declared to be our destination at about 9:45, we were a little confused. There were no signs, no arrows, nothing. It was just an old house in a crowded downtown neighborhood. All of the doors and windows were closed. We rang the bell, but no one answered. Were we at the right place? we wondered. "They're teaching us patience," I joked.

Just then, an older hippie couple came up the street from around the corner. I swear they could've walked off a North Oakland farmer's market.

"Are you here for meditation?" the lady asked us in Portuguese. She was friendly.
"Well, we're here for the beginners' class," Alexandre explained.
The lady gave us a concerned face. "Hmm...didn't that start at 9:00am?" she asked.
"Well, the website said 10:00, so..."
"Well, all right. I must be wrong. It's probably at 10:00." The older lady shrugged. "They're always changing stuff like that. But anyway, you guys need to come in this door over here." She pointed to a side gate that led to an alley -- not a door. It had a padlock on it, but the woman's husband (or, more likely, her "life partner") had a key to it. So he opened it and guided us in.

The little alley led to a back room of the old-house-turned-Buddhism-center. Two men were in the room: another unshaven hippie who was barefoot and a short Brazilian man in a black robe and black flip-flops.

"That's the guy I emailed," Alexandre whispered to me, pointing to the man in the robe. "I recognize his picture from the website." I nodded.
The older couple and the two men in the room exchanged their hellos, and since the older couple took off their shoes, we did, too. (I guess the leader guy was allowed to keep his flip flops on, guaranteeing him more protection from ants and scorpions, since he was in charge and all.)
"They're here for the beginners' class," the woman explained to the robed leader man. She pointed to us.Then the four of them mumbled among themselves about whether the beginners' class was at 9:00 or 10:00. It had apparently started at 9:00, after all.

Alexandre looked to the leader man and said, "Oh, sorry. I guess there was some miscommunication. I was the one who emailed you a couple of weeks ago to confirm the 10:00 time." Alexandre was super polite and used the formal second person singular and everything.
The leader man just walked away with his eyes half-closed and said nothing. The unshaven hippie guided us to a room where the other beginners were finishing up their introductory class. "Go ahead and join them," he said.

There was a woman who was apparently the meditation teacher. She was also wearing one of the black robes.

"Come on in," she encouraged quietly and politely. "You guys are late, but I'll tell you the important stuff before we start. Go out to the hall and get a mat and a cushion." She pointed to the extra black mats and cushions, so we followed the instructions.  
The teacher finished up an explanation about how to walk with one foot in front of the other during the walking exercise that would apparently occur later. Then, she went over the possible sitting positions. In all sitting positions, you apparently must keep your hands in a specific cupped position, like this:

She showed us students a way to sit on our femurs with the cushion between our legs, a way to sit on the front half of the cushion with one foot on the other thigh, and a way to sit on the front half of the cushion with legs crossed but both feet on the ground. She also offered a tiny wooden bench to anyone who thought they wouldn't be comfortable in the first three positions. Since Alexandre's khakis weren't doing him any favors, the lady told him, "ah, you might feel more comfortable using the bench when we meditate." Since she didn't bring it over to him, I understood that we wouldn't necessarily be starting right away.

...Except we did.

We didn't get that promised explanation of the important stuff (unless she considered sitting positions to be "the important stuff"). The other people came into the room, including the hippie couple, who had since dressed themselves in black robes, and the teacher lady just said, "all right. Turn to face the wall and choose a sitting position so we can begin." She rang a bell and lit some incense and everyone was silent.

Begin what? Meditating? How? For how long? What do I do? What's important? Am I supposed to breathe a certain way? Think certain thoughts? Focus on certain things? 

Even though it is extremely difficult for me, I tried to be patient. I figured the teacher would come over to me and Alexandre and whisper some more instructions, like she had promised. I figured they wouldn't have let us come in late if that beginners' class had been so important. I waited for guidance and instruction and context. I waited some more. I stole glances at the people around me, who all had their eyes closed. I tried closing my eyes for a bit. I tried thinking about breathing. The little mouse in his wheel that is my brain continued racing along. I opened my eyes again and sighed.

I turned to glance at the teacher lady in hopes that I could send her a look of confusion and despair that would inspire her to help me. She only opened one eye sternly and then closed her eyes tightly again. It made it look like she was giving me the stink eye, so I turned back to the wall. The "meditation" started to feel like time-out, except I didn't know what I was in trouble for.

I was still hoping something would change and that someone who knew what was going on would bring me into the loop. I started analyzing the paint on the wall, trying to think deep, peaceful thoughts about it. Since my hands were in the perfect position for it, I started twiddling my thumbs. I sang the alphabet backwards in my head. I started playing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" by myself, in silence, but then I decided that beer was inappropriate for a meditation session, so I changed my mental lyrics to "99 Bottles of Tea". I only got to 96 bottles of tea before I got bored and started sighing some more.

I tried focusing on the birds outside, because Buddhists care about nature, right? I know it goes more deeply than that, but no one wanted to tell me how or why. I recognized the calls of the rufous-collared sparrow and the great kiskadee. I mused over the fact that many people associate bird calls with peace and tranquility because they don't know much about birds. They think birds are singing or calling because they just can't contain their joy over the beauty of the morn'. In fact, birds are usually singing or calling because they see danger, or because they're horny and are trying to attract a mate.

After about 30 minutes, I ran out of things to think about. I know you're not supposed to think about things while you're meditating, but no one gave me any tips on how to not think, and my little hyperactive rat wheel brain wouldn't know where to start. "Restless" doesn't begin to describe how I was feeling. I remembered reading once how when people first get into meditation, they're supposed to start off by trying to meditate for only a couple of minutes, and they're supposed to slowly build up to these long, two-hour blocks that this Buddhist center had imposed. I started to panic at the thought of being forced to sit like that for another 90 minutes. What if the potentially fun walk the woman had mentioned didn't occur until AFTER 2 hours of staring at the wall? WHAT IF I HAD TO SIT LIKE THAT FOR ANOTHER 90 MINUTES?!?

I couldn't take it anymore. I stood up, rubbed Alexandre on the shoulder in an attempt to communicate "I'm fine, stay as long as you'd like," and I walked out of the room. I may have been breaking a rule by leaving, but it's hard to know if you're breaking a rule if no one tells you what the rules are.

I planned to get a head start on that walk by talking a walk around the neighborhood. But to my dismay, someone had locked the padlock back up! I was trapped inside the tiny Buddhist center! I think I actually mumbled "aw, HELL no!" to myself. I walked back to the "backyard" area behind the little house, which was literally just a slab of concrete. I figured I'd just sit on it and wait for Alexandre. It'd be better than being inside, because at least I'd be allowed to look at stuff.

But just as I sat down, the original leader man in the black flip flops came out.
"Miss?" he said.
"I'm very sorry," I started to explain. "I was just really confused because we missed the introductory class and I didn't know how long I needed to sit there."
"OK." was all he said. He walked over to the padlock and unlocked it, even though I didn't ask him to.
 "I mean, I'd really like to know what's going on --"
"OK." he said again.

I almost felt like he was thinking, "yes, please, go. We don't need your anxious kind around here."

Just then, Alexandre came out.

"Are you OK?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Go ahead and go back. Actually, do you want to give me the car key so I can get my Kindle? I just think I'd rather try this after receiving the full introductory class."
"No, no, it's OK. We can go," Alexandre said. "Just let me get my shoes."
He came back out to me and the leader man, who was waiting for us to leave so he could lock up the gate again.
"Sorry for all the confusion," Alexandre said earnestly. "We really thought it was at 10:00. The website said 10:00, and the email said 10:00. Was it you who I emailed, sir?"
The leader man ignored Alexandre's question. "Are you following us on Facebook?" the leader man asked.
"Well. That's the problem. Our Facebook is the only place where we post updated information. You shouldn't be using the site." He said it as if we were the ones who'd made the mistake. I found it amusingly ironic that we weren't allowed to wear shoes or clothes with patterns but that we were required to use Facebook if we wanted to be involved.
"Yes, all right then. Thanks anyway," Alexandre replied.

Most Catholic and Christian Brazilians will literally say "go with God" when you say goodbye, so this leader man said, "go well." We just nodded and walked away as he closed the metal gate and pushed the padlock shut.

Alexandre was annoyed with the man for being so non-communicative. He was annoyed with the teacher for not telling us to just come back next time, because the class was important. He was annoyed with me for walking out, because he said I embarrassed him and that he had been looking forward to it and that now he was too ashamed to go back.

I insisted that he could've stayed. I argued that he can go back for the next beginners' class and that there's no reason for him to be embarrassed. I defended myself by explaining that I don't think they really wanted us there in the first place. I got the impression that they liked the exclusivity of their center and that they did not possess the "anyone new is welcome" mentality of other religions. I wondered whether they were correctly representing the Buddhist faith in their exclusivity.  What it came down to was that I wasn't going to blindly do what someone tells me to do for no reason other than to prove that I'd do what they said, because that's kind of what the whole thing felt like. At worst, it was that. At best, it was just a really disorganized meditation center.

Ah, religion. How your sense of community eludes me.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Quiet Side of Ex-Pat Life

So I think that a lot of friends / readers / people who hear that I live in Brazil with a sexy Brazilian doctor imagine that my life must be an endless parade of cocktails, Copacabana sidewalks, and, well...parades. I hope that my blog has successfully dispelled that myth for my family, friends, and regular readers. But there's a glaring issue that exists for the ex-pat spouse, and I don't think many of us bloggers mention it enough (I hope that's not because I'm the only one experiencing it). The issue is this:

Very unequal social lives!
i.e., Alexandre has lots of friends and I don't.

When I moved to Brazil, we were in Alexandre's college town, and he was a college student. Unfortunately, his university was not set up in the way most American universities / college towns are set up. Brazilian medical schools (and most colleges, I believe) have the idea of a sala, which can loosely be translated as "graduating class." The sala consists of the 30-100 people that were accepted for a given major in a given year. Brazilian medical schools cannot be separated from Brazilian undergraduate courses -- a medical school here is essentially a six-year undergraduate course that results in a medical degree.  Anyway, the sala mentality is very different from what I experienced in college, where my graduating class was something like 12,000; I had classes with as many as 200 students and they were not the same people I saw the next semester; I had some classes with some friends and other classes with others, etc. In Brazilian colleges with the sala system, this relatively small group of students is accepted into the university together at the beginning of the year, and in the case of medical school, they do everything together and only with each other for the next 6 years. All the same classes, all the same teachers, etc. They get divided into small groups to do rotations, but then it's again with the same small group of people. When parties and events are held, they are held for the sala. When someone starts up a sports team, only people from the sala can join. Very few people drop out or transfer in. It kind of reminded me of a fraternity (or, on bad days, a cult). The point was that these people were, on the whole, not interested in potentially forming a friendship with me. They had their sala, and I was [-sala] (nerdy linguistics joke). So it was very, very hard for me to break into Alexandre's social circle, and I can't say that I ever really did. The friends I made in Caipirópolis were the result of my making friends with my students, who introduced me to their friends (it was essentially just one very nice girl who opened up her social circle to me).

Then there was the obvious crap-which-must-not-be-named that was the life in the beach town for the military, my year of being a bird trying to fly underwater. I think you probably all remember the functional depression I exuded through last year's posts. No friends there, though Alexandre had his military buddies.

Now that we're in Springfieldee, things are better in that I am working full-time and keeping myself busy with students and translations. I'm also on my health kick, which means I spend a good amount of time at the gym every week. But friends these activities do not make. Springfieldee is relatively close to Alexandre's hometown, which means he now has his medical residency friends AND his hometown friends. He has a ton of options for his social life, and I struggle to keep up.

And here, my friends, is where the dilemma appears.

Alexandre wants to spend a night or two a week out with the guys. Since he usually works at least one night a week (and that night is sometimes a weekend), the nights available for our quality time become more limited.

I don't want to be that kind of wifriend who tells her husfriend that he can't go out with the guys, that I need all of his attention, etc. If I had more friends here, I'd be going out more, too.

But therein lies the issue: I don't have more friends here. So I'm not going out more. So "guys' nights out" translate to "Danielle's nights home alone." There are some days when I teach/translate from home the whole day and don't leave the house. There are others, like today, when, as a coincidence, all of my students asked to make up their classes on other days. That meant I didn't have any students today and I was totally bored. That's not Alexandre's fault, but it didn't mean I wasn't totally disappointed when he called from work to tell me that he was gonna go out for some beers with the guys from the hospital after his 7am-9pm workday. He's not wrong in wanting macho time. But I'm not wrong in wanting less alone time, either.

Here's the cause of the problem: When we move abroad, we lose our social network. The REAL, living, breathing, laughing heat of a human social network, not the soundbyte updates and shared quotation pictures on Facebook. I believe it was Born Again Brazilian who lamented over the fact that some of us don't have anyone in our day-to-day lives (except for our partners) who have known us for longer than we've lived in Brazil. That means there's NO ONE we see, not even once in a while, who knew us when we were single, or when we were students, or when we were kids, or who was there when we were born and who watched us grow up, or maybe who grew up alongside us, possibly no one who had ever gone through anything big with us. Think about the enfeebling lightness of that, the disheartening necessity to need to explain yourself most completely, constantly, if you ever hope to be understood. You no longer have a history or a context -- or in some cases, a permanence --  to the people around you. You're just here, suddenly, two-dimensionally, and in far too many cases, you, the ex-pat, you, born only minutes away from *~*Hollywoodjee,~*~* get your lines drawn in with stereotypes. When the people you meet decide to do complete you like that, you can never become anything more complex to them.

So I'm up against a lot here, in this attempt to match Alexandre in his social life so that he doesn't feel guilty for going out and I don't feel so alone. I understand that it takes time to make friends in any new place, and the time frame is even more extended when you're a foreigner in the new place and you don't have a job with co-workers. And it sucks for me that Alexandre already knows a bunch of people around here, and that he is in a job that facilitates bonding and camaraderie within his largely male field.

We do do the "couple's night out" thing once in a while, but he is currently the only guy in his residency with a significant other in town (lots of long-distance relationships in that group, which I suppose is logical among doctors who will move for whatever residency they can get). Unfortunately, I have yet to meet any potentially serious friends among the girlfriends of Alexandre's friends, largely because of the dead fish issue that plagues upper-middle-class Brazilian interior women. I really do try. I really do go into the evening with high hopes and trying really hard to believe that the next girl will be different.

But the point of this post is not really to talk about how it's hard for me to make friends. It's to lament over the difficulty in living somewhere where one person in the relationship has lots of friends and the other one doesn't. It's healthy for each person to have their own social life outside of the relationship, but it sucks when one person has a much more thriving social life, and when there's no good solution to the problem. His staying home is not the solution. My going out with him all the time is not the solution, especially if there are only guys there. But my staying home alone so much is really boring and borderline depressing. I hope I'm not the only ex-pat who goes through this.

I will point out that a blog-reader-turned-student (!), who prefers to be known on the internet as "J", came over for dinner last night and we had a lovely time. I taught her how to make tikka massala, and she taught me how to make beijinho. We cooked, ate, played with Gatinha, and had a good conversation, as always. J is just a little bit older, she's very capable of understanding relativity, and she's just plain nice, which means that she likes to give advice and insight in a way that's helpful but not condescending, and we're still able to relate to each other. I think more nights like that and with more options for people to share them with is the track I need to be on to get around this lonely impasse.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cultural Quirks

So in today's blog post, I thought I'd muse over some small but interesting cultural quirks that I've noticed in Brazil. If you're Brazilian, please don't get all troll-y on me and start whining with things like "this doesn't happen in MY region so you're misrepresenting my country!" or "only poor people do that -- my family and I would NEVER do that!" or my favorite, "well I don't think that's common, so your interpretation of the world around you is clearly misguided!" These are things I've seen enough to think they belong in a blog post, and they're things that I never saw in the US. Just have fun with it! :D  :D  :D

The first cultural quirk is that a lot of people have a different perspective about the rules of opening doors. When Person A is leaving Person B's house or business, it's social custom for Person B to open the door for Person A. The joke/expression/superstition is that the owner of the door has to be the one to open it so that the visitor comes back. This rule is so ingrained in the culture that my students always wait at my door for me to open it for them when they leave, even if it means that I have to awkwardly pass them in our tiny hallway in order to get it open. So if you are the Person A, dear foreigner, do wait for the owner of the door to open it for you!

Speaking of coming and going, it's also polite to say "com licença" when entering someone's house, even if the person is entering with you. Com licença means "excuse me," so my students always try to pass this politeness over to their English when they come into my apartment. Almost all of them say "excuse me!" as they come in the front door. Depending on the student's level of cultural awareness and relativity, I'll explain to them that we don't say that in English (or at least in the United States). Some of them will actually say "excuse me" or "com licença," and then ask if it's correct or if they should say something else. I tell them that it's nice to compliment someone's house when you enter it for the first time, but after that, you don't need to say anything when you walk in the door.

There's another superstition that it's bad luck to leave one's purse on the floor. I think it's just bad hygiene that has been morphed into interpreted bad luck ("my mom always left her purse on the floor, and she got sick more often than most!"). But at any rate, it's something women have warned me about since my first week in the country. The upside to this superstition is that many stores sell these cute little metal purse hangers that hook onto tables. The idea is that you can keep this hanger in your purse and then clip your purse onto the table at restaurants rather than awkwardly hanging it over the side of your chair.

I'm waiting to find just the right one

Something else that amuses me is that it's socially acceptable to leave the house with wet hair. Of course, I doubt all women agree with this, but walking into work or to the bar with wet hair is something I definitely see more here than I ever saw in the US. I think the logic is that everyone knows it's important to try to get an extra shower in when you can, especially on hot, humid days, so women will often choose to have wet hair over being sweaty and stinky if they can help it.

Speaking of hygiene, a lot of people bring toothbrushes to work and brush their teeth after lunch or if they've had a lot of coffee. People also bring toothbrushes on any relatively long bus rides. This is a good social rule, in my opinion! I never saw any Americans brush their teeth at work, and I think the only people in the US who brush their teeth in public bathrooms are the homeless. +1 for Brazil for its oral hygiene!

So those are just some funny little differences I've seen between the two cultures. Have you noticed any others, in any country?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Portuguese Teacher for You!

I'm honored to finally be able to tell you all about my former Portuguese teacher, Francisca. She and I met as a result of a post in which I whined about how much I wanted a Portuguese teacher.  I immediately wanted to recommend her on the blog, but at the time, she wasn't accepting new students. Now, lucky for you, she is!

Francisca is a Brazilian Portuguese teacher with degrees in translation and PSL -- that's right, like ESL, but Portuguese! Portuguese as a Second Language! She taught big wigs in Brasilia and had students from all over the world before she needed to move to São Bernardo do Campo for her husband's job. She makes most of her own material, and the published material that she does use is first-rate stuff. She also lived in the US for a study abroad program and is very fluent in English, so she'll understand what you're thinking and can explain things in English if it's necessary. But don't think your native language needs to be English -- Francisca has had students from many countries, and native speakers of many languages. It was clear from the activities that she used in class that she was well prepared to teach Portuguese using level-appropriate Portuguese.

Now, if any of you have read more than an entry or two of my blog, then you probably know that I'm a little bit of a language/linguistics/education snob. (Just a little.) That means I am VERY picky about my language teachers and the way my classes are run, both when I'm the teacher and when I'm the student. So I was so pleased when Francisca and I started having classes together, because I finally found someone who I could go toe to toe with. She knew her stuff and wasn't just trying to make fast cash by babbling her opinions about her native language, and most importantly, she didn't make me watch trashy Brazilian music videos on YouTube during class. :P

Francisca was particularly helpful in teaching me the nuances of both formal Brazilian grammar and the variety of Brazilian slang expressions. She uses a lot of activities with natural conversations in real-world contexts. They were very helpful in seeing the difference between formal and informal constructions. We also had some wonderful conversations about our countries, our cats, language, and life.

The only reason Francisca is not my teacher anymore is because we had our classes over Skype, and now my internet is too unreliable for Skype classes. But if you're interested in Portuguese classes over Skype and in learning Portuguese with a wonderfully qualified teacher who is teaching you because she loves teaching Portuguese and not because she thinks you're a rich gringo who is too dumb to know what money is worth, then go ahead and send her an email! Her prices are very fair. Her email address is  francisca.vargas@gmail.comBecause the classes are over Skype, you don't have to be in Brazil to be her student. You just have to have at least 1MB of internet speed, a microphone for your computer, and preferably a webcam (it'll make things much easier for you, I assure you!).

I'm so happy to finally be able to make this recommendation. I hope those of you looking to learn or improve your Portuguese will contact her for more information. :) Again, her email address is  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vacation Itch, already!

So here in Brazil, there's apparently a worker's rights law in which employees receive a month of paid vacation each year. A MONTH! Alexandre is going to get this month off work in November. We're going to spend about 5 of those days on a trip together (I don't get a month of paid vacation, so I'll need to get back to work).

We just can't decide where to go! Our dream trip is to Manaus, but it's just too far out of our budget. I also convinced Alexandre about how amazing it would be to go to Belem by showing him the Anthony Bourdain episode (we seriously looked up plane tickets after we watched it), but it seems like a trip to Belem would be more like a trip to a big city (with delicious food) rather than something more relaxing and nature-based (the preference for this vacation). Am I wrong about that? Would there be nature-y options (hiking, waterfalls, boat rides, etc) in Belem?

I emailed the nice lady from CVC who helped Bianca and me plan our Pantanal adventure and asked her for some ideas and price estimations. She recommended Florionópolis, a southern beach, and Itacaré, a northeastern beach, but I'm worried that Florionópolis will be too crowded and touristy, and Itacaré is almost the same price as the Belem trip.

A friend of Alexandre's recently went on a hiking trip in the VERY rural state of Tocantins, and he recommended it. But it's also going to be more money than we're planning on spending, and I think it would be too hard-core of a hiking trip (more like trekking/backpacking) to allow for much relaxing.

Today, I also remembered the historical beach town of Paraty, but that would mean lots of driving (meh).

Now that I've typed all this out, I realize how I really really want to go to Belem, how I keep finding things wrong with the other possible locations in order to justify a Belem trip. I've also kept the Anthony Bourdain link playing as I've typed this, and it got me all excited about the city again. Maybe it'd just be better to save our pennies (or centavos, as it were) over the next two months so we can have a bigger trip budget to accommodate the extra cost of Belem.

What do you guys think? Have any of you been to (or lived in) Belem? (Can you think of ideas for justifying the extra cost during a conversation with Alexandre? :) Do you have any other ideas for a nice, relaxing, domestic 5-day vacation? We're trying to keep the hotel + flight price to as close to R$1000 per person as possible (though without staying in a crappy hotel or hostel -- the idea is to relaaaax and I'm old now and I value a good night's sleep).

Yayayayayay! All these weekends of cooking at home and translating will be totally worth it if I can FINALLY eat pato com tucupi.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Gettin' Healthy

So it all started with the Pantanal trip -- the weight gain, that is.

The Ranch-Hotel (pousada) where we stayed had amazingly delicious all-you-can-eat meals, with whole milk fresh from the cow, and fatty barbecued beef, and candied fruits. Couple that with a week of lounging and drinking alcohol at night, and you've -- well I'd -- got myself the beginnings of disaster.

Soon after I got home from the Pantanal, I contracted a terrible case of pink eye that I got from Alexandre, who brought it home from the hospital. It's highly contagious, so almost none of my students wanted classes (a few accepted having classes temporarily over Skype, but most just preferred to wait for me to get better, including my money-making groups! Ugghhh). I spent almost 3 weeks bored out of my mind, quarantined at home. I didn't go to the gym, because I felt guilty at the thought of passing pink eye on to people. The particular virus I got was exceptionally harsh -- it damaged my corneas and now I have this thing called "infiltração". That's a medical term for when the pink eye virus lingers in the damaged parts of your corneas and messes up your vision. (I couldn't find it in English.) It's going to take a couple of months for things to clear up completely. In the meantime, I can't drive because I can't see well enough, but at least I'm not in literally blinding pain anymore.

Well, like I said, I spent the pink eye time at home, wearing sunglasses indoors and with ghetto-style blankets covering my windows. The flashing lights of the TV were too painful, and the Kindle was too blurry. So I just listened to a lot of Florence and the Machine, and I cooked a lot and whined and complained even more. I went on a "copycat recipe" kick -- I made Pizza-Hut-Style Breadstick/Pizza and Applebee's-Style Blondies (I just used chocolate and honey in the sauce instead of maple syrup). Everything was delicious, but it was a recipe for weight gain!

When I went back to work and to the gym, things were tough! I was getting tired easily. It's amazing what a month of sloth can do. My barometer jeans were also way beyond fitting. (You've got some of those too, right?)

So I decided to make a change. I live across the street from the gym. I started to go more regularly. I stopped making yummy unhealthy things, and I've been trying to make slightly-less-yummy healthy things. I downloaded some helpful exercise apps on my phone. (If you're interested, they're called "Daily Ab workout," "Daily Arm Workout," etc. They have video!)

But the extra super exciting thing about my new weight loss kick is my new personal trainer! You may remember this trainer from my post about my new aerobics class at the gym. She started having English classes with me, and I've continued attending her gym classes. I'd been wanting to suggest an English class - personal trainer trade, but I figured she wouldn't want to, since unfortunately personal trainers at this gym make more than English teachers. But then, in the last class of the month (and therefore the end of her contract), she shyly asked me if I'd be interested in being her student, with an exchange for English classes if I was up for it. She explained that she has more time than money these days, and said that she would "ficar contente" (be pleased) if I accepted. I was so relieved! We worked out the details, and my first session with her is on Monday!

The training will be here at my house, so we can both avoid paying the gym as the middle man. This is possible because Alexandre and I own a bunch of well-intentioned exercise equipment, and because we also have a pool in the complex (along with well-intentioned swimming equipment that will finally be put to use!).  I'm going to continue going to the gym, since I'll only be doing 2 hours a week with her and since I have a contract there, but I think it's going to be really nice to have her support. (She's also going to write up a more personalized training set for me to use at the gym, since the set they give out to everyone is helpful but pretty generic.)

 So yay! Trading things for English classes is awesome. (I'm currently also trading Portuguese classes for English classes with a really good teacher.) I hope I keep this health stuff up. Do share if you're in the same boat. I'd especially love to know your ideas for healthy snacks, which is an issue that still eludes me in this country.

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